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Chromeo at Guitar Center:

Ah, the unmistakable electro-funk of the ’80s. Drum machines, slap bass, lyrics about girls, and synths, synths, synths. You either loved it, hated it, or were young enough that you cared about Transformers more than music. Chromeo loved it, and even if you didn’t, we dare you to listen to any track off Fancy Footwork or their 2004 debut She’s in Control without a bounce buoying your booty and an ear-to-ear grin moonwalking across your mug.

So imagine the size of our collective grin when Dave 1 (David Macklovitch on guitar and lead vocals) and P-Thugg (Patrick Gemayel on synths, beats, and talkbox vocals) sauntered across the historic RockWalk into Guitar Center Hollywood, right after blowing the crowd away at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee, and right before heading to upstate New York to do an episode of “Live From Daryl’s House,” a video webcast hosted by pop icon Daryl Hall.

How does the songwriting process work between the two of you?

P-Thugg: It’s different for every song. Sometimes, I just write a lot of grooves and verses and send it to Dave. If the song is good enough, he starts writing lyrics. Other times, he just comes up with a melody or some words and brings it to me.

Dave 1: I know it’s cliché to say “It depends,” but in our case, it really does. It’s really one of two ways. The first way is, well – P has a studio in his house, and he’s usually in there all the time, making demos. So he’ll just send me a ton of, like, maybe four- or eight-bar loops and sequences. Whatever I have a reaction to, I’ll start writing melodies, chord changes, and lyrics to. Then I’ll go to his studio and show him that stuff. Usually, I’ll do some sequencing as well. Then, P comes back later on and adds all those little keyboard touches – all those little “ear worms” – that are really our signature sound.

The second way is that sometimes, I’ll come up with a song, and I purposely don’t work with any instruments initially; I just keep a lot of stuff in my head, say, a verse and chorus pretty much mapped out. If he likes it, we’ll put it together and mock up a demo. If it sticks with him, he’ll be inspired to work on it, then he bounces it back to me, and we go back and forth.

When keyboard players come into Guitar Center looking for gear, they want to know how guys like you get your sounds. All your beats and drum sounds on Fancy Footwork take us right back to the ’80s, so let’s start there.

P-Thugg: The drums are all either vintage drum machines, or an Akai MPC1000, which is one of the two smallest ones. It might surprise you, but I actually don’t have a Roland TR-808, though I do have samples of it loaded into the Akai MPC. I also use an old Sequential Circuits DrumTraks.

What do you like best about the MPC1000?

P-Thugg: It has a clean sound, and makes everything really punchy and loud. I’ll sometimes sample, say, a kick from the DrumTraks into it, if I want it to have a more bottom-y, compressed sound.

Describe your favorite synth sound or technique, or your first memory of hearing something on a record that made you say to yourself, “Man, I wanna make that sound!”

Dave 1: One of my favorite keyboard motifs is the standard Minneapolis funk drum-andsynth interplay. You’ll have a tight funk beat like “Boom, krak! Boom-boom. krak!” on a drum machine, and over that you have these keyboard stabs that are essentially like big band horn parts, only played with an analog brass sound. We did that on “Outta Sight” on our album, but that song wouldn’t have been possible without “Sussudio” by Phil Collins, which wouldn’t have been possible without Prince’s “1999,” and the list goes on. We’re disciples of the Minneapolis sound. We’re dudes that’ll sit down for hours and analyze a record by Morris Day and the Time — everything about it. Same with pop like like Hall and Oates.

P-Thugg: My first instrument was bass, but I got into playing keyboards because of the talkbox. I heard “More Bounce to the Ounce” by Zapp with Roger Troutman. It’s not the earliest memory, but it’s definitely the most important. I heard his talkbox, and was like, “I have to play this! I have to learn how to do that robot voice!” We didn’t have internet back then, but in a thrift store, I came across this little book on how to make different pedals and stuff, Electronic Projects for Guitar. I asked my physics teacher from school how to do certain things, and wound up building my first talkbox! Then, I realized that to get the sound I wanted out of it, I had to play synthesizers, so there you are. Onstage, my Rocktron Banshee talkbox is probably my most important piece of gear.

With the talkbox, what do you use for the sound source?

P-Thugg: An old Yamaha DX100, which is what Roger from Zapp used. I became friends with one of the guys from his band, and he sent me the patches by email as MIDI Sys Ex files. I just dumped ’em in, and there were all his sounds. I couldn’t believe it. The whole first row of buttons is one sound that’s transposed ¬– since he had to concentrate on singing with the talkbox, he played in a comfortable key and selected the different patches for the different songs.

All the Chromeo bass lines are killer, as well. What do you use for those?

P-Thugg: On Fancy Footwork, I split bass duties between a vintage Moog Prodigy and a Nord Modular. It’s one of the best out there for re-creating vintage sounds. Especially the second generation, which they call the G2. I have the original and the G2, and you can basically re-create any synthesizer if you know its basic structure and signal path. The G2 series has options to do the FM synthesis of the Yamaha DX7, which so much of the digital-sounding part of ’80s songs relied on. You can even import old DX7 patches as Sys- Ex data, right into the Nord! Between the Nord and Native Instruments FM7, I don’t need my DX7 anymore!

In the studio, you used a lot of vintage analog synths. Do you take those out live?

Yeah, in the studio we had a Roland SH-101 and a Juno-106, as well as one of my favorite synths from the ’80s, the Korg Mono/Poly – I’ll put it up against a Minimoog any day.

Dave 1: We don’t take any of the vintage stuff on the road, because it gets beat up way too easily.

So how do you recreate the Chromeo sound onstage? Or how would someone create it with gear you could find today?

P-Thugg: The Logic people from Apple took me into a studio for a tutorial on Logic Studio. It’s pretty cool, and I intend to use it on the road for ideas. If I have something in my head that I want to get out, I can bust out Logic and with the included soft synths, I’ve got a great Wurlitzer sound, great Rhodes and Clav sounds, B-3 sounds, synth sounds, all that.

Name one idea each of you would like fans to take away once they listen to Chromeo.

P-Thugg: The sounds are just as important to me as the music itself. I spend hours listening to old records and trying to figure out how they made the keyboard sounds, then recreating them.

Dave 1: You can write silly pop songs like ours, but still be rich with influences. It’s a big musical heritage that we’re carrying, and if we can add a little footnote to the paragraph, that’s all we can ask for.

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